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Missionary Spotlight-Church-planting in Austria

January 2003 | by Reinhold Widter

During the 20th century, Protestant state churches in Austria became increasingly liberal in theology.

Today, the Reformed Evangelische Kirche, while professing to adhere to The Helvetic Confession, has departed completely from the historic Reformed faith and biblical ethics.

A similar story can be told for the Lutheran Church, although it still has some faithful ministers and members.

Religious freedom for all in Austria became a reality after World War II. There was a surge of missionaries (especially from North America) and a consequent increase in the number of evangelical congregations.

However, these new works were small in size and Arminian in theology.

Missionary work in Austria remains a hard pioneer enterprise in the face of a counter-Reformation ethos and a hostile Roman Catholic culture.

New church

Our own congregation was established in Upper Austria during the 1980s.

It began in 1983 in Neuhofen, near Linz, when our family gathered with a lady Swiss missionary, Silvia Krebser, for Sunday worship. I was the pastor of this tiny pioneer ‘church’.

Over a period of time, a small group of believers emerged. We were in contact with some Dutch Reformed churches, and adopted The Westminster Confession and Heidelberg Catechism as our confessional standards.

We constituted as the first congregation of the Presbyterian Church in Austria.

Vision

Our vision extended to the whole of Austria. We wanted the Neuhofen church to be a model for other congregations, still to be planted. We hoped that the church constitution we were formulating would become normative for a network of new churches.

We recognised that those whom God would one day call out of the world as our brothers and sisters through his covenant of grace would come from a variety of religious backgrounds.

New converts would need a Christian home and a spiritual family. We sought to provide for this in two ways: theologically, through thoroughly biblical church standards; and ecclesiologically, through a clear Presbyterian identity.

By God’s grace this strategy is working.

Second pastor

In 1998 a second Austrian minister joined us. Coming from a Lutheran background, Reinhard Mayer settled in Rankweil, near Feldkirch in Vorarlberg.

Members of our church had been praying for years for a congregation to be started in this area of western Austria, close to Switzerland.

Rev. Mayer underwent a one-year course of postgraduate theological training, and early in 2000 was ordained as pastor of the Rankweil church.

As we look back on the establishment of the congregations at Neuhofen and Rankweil, we realise that the Holy Spirit has been at work in the consciences of people, awakening them to their sin and converting them to Jesus Christ.

Struggles

However, our small church has experienced deep struggles too. For example, we have rejected Charismatic teaching and thereby lost the brotherhood of some Evangelical churches.

We face the oppressive influence of the Protestant state churches, who think they are the only churches in Austria with the right to call themselves evangelisch.

In spite of all such problems, we still aspire to being a self-supporting, self-propagating and self-governing church, under Jesus Christ, serving the whole of Austria.

Missionary heart

We are seeking to meet our current spiritual needs more effectively by appointing elders and deacons (men of pastoral care and mercy, according to the New Testament pattern) from within the congregations.

We want to train emerging church leaders through home-based study-by-extension courses. We are considering establishing a theological seminary, with its own library.

We need seminary teachers with a burning, missionary heart. Perhaps God is calling you to uphold the Presbyterian Church of Austria at the throne of grace – or even to serve within it?

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Austria